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Merrick v. Franey Medical Lab, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 19, 2019




         Plaintiff Linda Merrick alleges violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., along with a plethora of state law claims arising out of her employment termination by Defendants Franey Medical Lab, Inc. (FMLI) and Kathleen Franey, her former supervisor. Doc. No. 15. Plaintiff levels additional state law claims against Defendant Mark Gent, FMLI’s business manager. Id. In response, Defendants collectively move to dismiss the case in its entirety. Doc. Nos. 6, 20. For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss is ALLOWED with respect to Plaintiff’s ADEA claims (Counts V and X). Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims are REMANDED to Barnstable Superior Court for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court recounts the relevant facts as they are alleged in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint. Doc. No. 15.

         In 1987, Plaintiff began her employment relationship with FMLI, a laboratory services firm which provides substance abuse testing and monitoring for area health care providers. Id. at 1. Initially hired as a lab technician, Plaintiff remained in the employ of FMLI until 2000, when the company was sold to another business. Id. When FMLI recommenced its own lab services in 2005, Plaintiff continued in her original capacity. Id. In 2009, she was promoted to Lab Manager and was granted responsibilities like “supervising employees and overseeing lab testing.” Id. at 2.

         As Lab Manager, Plaintiff was directly supervised by Defendant Franey, who “was tasked with running the day-to-day operation of the company.” Id. at 2. During this period, Defendant Franey “frequently praised Plaintiff for her dedication and strong work ethic.” Id. Plaintiff’s performance evaluations, including her most recent evaluation in 2013, indicated that she had “met or exceeded expectations.” By 2018, Plaintiff was “one of the oldest and highest paid employees of FMLI.” Id. at 3.

         The series of events that gave rise to this suit began in 2017. First, Plaintiff alleges that an employee who objected to FMLI’s newly instituted work share program-an objection Plaintiff had defended-was terminated by Defendant Franey, who simultaneously “warned Plaintiff that similar action could be taken against her.” Id. at 2. Next, Plaintiff learned of, and subsequently reported, an alleged incident of sexual harassment involving Defendant Gent’s wife, Jennifer. Id. The alleged victim was terminated and Plaintiff “was systematically phased out of management decisions.” Id. Sometime thereafter, Defendant Gent began to “demean [Plaintiff] in front of co-workers, often refer[ring] to her as irrelevant.” Id. On one occasion, Defendant Gent approached Plaintiff about a workplace dispute, “caus[ing] the Plaintiff to be placed in fear for her safety.” Id. at 3. A few days after notifying FMLI’s HR director that “she would be forced to file a report with the police” if the incident with Defendant Gent went unaddressed, Plaintiff was terminated by Defendant Franey. Id. at 3–4. At the time of her termination, Plaintiff was over the age of 40; FMLI subsequently “replaced her with a younger employee.” Id. at 4.


         A. General Pleading Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint “must provide fair notice to the defendants and state a facially plausible legal claim.” Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). While Rule 12(b)(6)’s demands are modest, it “is not entirely a toothless tiger.” Dartmouth Rev. v. Dartmouth Coll., 889 F.2d 13, 16 (1st Cir. 1989) (noting that the “threshold for stating a claim may be low, but it is real.”). “The pleader must show an entitlement to relief by including in the complaint enough factual material to raise a right to relief above the speculative level if the facts alleged are accepted as true.” Faculty, Alumni, & Students Opposed to Racial Preferences v. Harvard Law Review Ass’n, No. CV 18-12105-LTS, 2019 WL 3754023, at *4 (D. Mass. Aug. 8, 2019) (quoting Ocasio-Hernandez, 640 F.3d at 12) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. ADEA Pleading Standard

         The ADEA “makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee because of his or her age.” Connolly v. Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc., 355 F.Supp.3d 9, 15 (D. Mass. 2018); 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination under the ADEA, a plaintiff must show:

(1) [she is] a member of a protected class; (2) [she is] qualified for [her] job; (3) [she has] suffer[ed] an adverse employment action at the hands of [her] employer; and (4) [there is] some evidence of a causal connection between [her] membership in a protected class and the adverse employment action.

Garmon v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 844 F.3d 307, 313 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Bhatti v. Trs. of Bos. Univ., 659 F.3d 64, 70 (1st Cir. 2011)). The Supreme Court has held that the plaintiff need not plead facts sufficient to establish “a prima facie case… in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002). However, the plaintiff still “must plead enough facts to make entitlement to relief plausible.” Higgins v. State St. Corp., 323 F.Supp.3d 203, 206 (D. Mass. 2018); Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 54 (1st Cir. 2013) (noting that the elements of the prima facie case are not irrelevant to a plausibility determination, but rather constitute “part of the background against which a plausibility determination should be made”). “Put simply, the ...

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